It’s an ‘insult to the elected government of Israel,’ the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, tells the Sun.
By Anthony Grant
(SEPTEMBER 5, 2023 / THE NEW YORK SUN) Sometimes, apparently, Skype just won’t do. Israel’s opposition leader, 59-year-old former journalist Yair Lapid, flew to Washington Monday for a fast-paced series of meetings the following day with top aides of the Biden administration.
Mr. Lapid during his brief sojourn in the nation’s capital — he was due to fly out Tuesday — is said to have voiced his opposition to America’s overtures to Saudi Arabia that could include Washington’s acceptance of a Saudi nuclear program as part of a potential agreement between the kingdom and Israel.
“Strong democracies do not endanger their security interests to solve political problems,” Mr. Lapid reportedly said.
Among the officials who met with Mr. Lapid were Mr. Biden’s special coordinator for energy security, Amos Hochstein, and his coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk. Mr. Lapid also was scheduled to meet with numerous Democratic Party legislators, including Senators Ossoff, Kelly, Kaine, Van Hollen, Murphy, and Rosen.
It is Mr. Lapid’s meeting with Biden officials that rankles some observers. One such is the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein. He expressed anger over Mr. Lapid’s decision to come to Washington to “meet with officials and promote an agenda opposite to the agenda of the elected government of Israel.”
Nor did Mr. Klein spare the administration. “I find it,” he told the Sun, “utterly disgraceful for Biden administration officials to accept to meet with the opposition leader, especially in light of the fact they have refused to meet with the elected prime minister of Israel.”
There is certainly no love lost between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu, even though the former once reportedly told Mr. Netanyahu, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.” That affection was certainly not on display last July when the Biden administration welcomed President Herzog to Washington to commemorate Israel’s 1948 founding — but not Mr. Netanyahu.
Last year Mr. Biden and Mr. Lapid, who was prime minister at the time, signed a pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons. Mr. Biden was in Israel as part of a four-day tour of the Middle East. Between July 1 and December 29, 2022, the 59-year-old Mr. Lapid served in a caretaker role as Israel’s fourteenth prime minister. Before that he served as Israel’s alternative prime minister and foreign minister. He still chairs the centrist Yesh Atid (Hebrew for “There Is a Future”) party, which he founded in 2012.
Does Mr. Lapid envision a political future for Israel without Mr. Netanyahu? Possibly. “Lapid’s goal has been publicly stated by him: it’s to bring down this Israeli government,” Mr. Klein said, adding, “While he’s screaming that Netanyahu is harming democracy in Israel, in fact it is Lapid who is harming democracy and Bibi’s attempt to change the judicial system is a change for the better and for more democracy. Lapid has refused to even compromise on judicial reform.”
For Mr. Klein, “the elected prime minister has been snubbed by the administration.” He suggested the decision to facilitate and approve the high-level meetings might not have come from President Biden but from a former president, Barack Obama.
“There is no question that Obama has tremendous influence on the appointments and the decision-making of this White House,” Mr. Klein said. “Almost every appointment that is made for important positions is a friend of Obama, and I am convinced that Obama is making policy decisions as well as personnel decisions. Remember the old saying: Personnel is policy.”
“Even the latest appointment of ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, was chief of staff and Secretary of the Treasury to Obama — not one of Biden’s own people,” Mr. Klein said. “Now Obama can promote even more extreme policies because he has the front man of Biden who doesn’t have the image of being a radical leftist.”
That Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu were often at odds with one another is an understatement. The Israeli leader has written that at the White House Mr. Obama once told him, “You know, people often read me wrong, but I come from Chicago. I know how to deal with tough rivals.”
This month both Messrs. Biden and Netanyahu will be speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, but two days apart. It is not clear whether the president will meet with Mr. Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN parley. In any event it is likely that the prime minister would prefer an invitation to the White House.
This article was originally published in the New York Sun and can be viewed here.